Reflections on Self-Tracking

Here are some brief reflections on 14 days of tracking sleep, nutrition, exercise and productivity.

Sleep

I am most focused and productive on 7 hours of sleep. I experimented with 9 hours, 8 hours, 7 hours, and 6 hours. I tracked these times for 3 consecutive days. My next experiment will be the times I go to sleep and wake up within those 7 hours. I have a feeling the time of day and night will reflect on my level of performance.

Nutrition

I practice a high fat, low carb diet, no gluten, no processed foods, no sugar, heavy on red meat. I have practiced this diet for 8 months and found better mental and physical results through this way of eating. However, there are foods within this diet that I came to suspect, such as eggs. After 8 months, I wanted to cycle some foods in and out to make sure I was not making a dogmatic nutrition decision. To me, nutrition is more for mental and physical optimization.

I found that 14 days is not sufficient time to adequately judge my performance. Furthermore, I needed a more controlled environment. I did find that yes, I have a gluten intolerance which did not surprise me. However, I was surprised by the time my body recovers from gluten (about 7 days) and the delayed onset of gluten issues. I experienced a significant drop in my moods 72 hours after gluten consumption. My “cheat” consisted of 5 chocolate chip cookies. The problem is that I do not ingest sugar and I ingested no sugar from fruits during those 14 days.

Another variable I tried was stopping Intermittent Fasting (IF). I normally eat within an 8  hour window (11:30am to 7pm). I wanted to test the 3-meal-a-day theory. After 3 days I experienced severe hunger where I had not experienced hunger while IF’ing. Again, this experiment is not ideal because at the same time I was introducing gluten and sugar.

I need to carefully introduce one culprit at a time to understand how my body reacts. I must be more careful to conduct controlled experiments.

Exercise

I did not really change-up my exercise routine. I do a 15 minute full-body routine every morning. I always try to introduce new exercises in order to achieve proper muscle confusion. I found that I experience greater results from adding 2 new compound exercises every 2 days. My next goal is to increase the speed at which I conduct these exercises. That will occur over the course of 14 days.

Productivity

My productivity sky-rocketed in days 5 to 9 and steadily increased during days 1-4. After the 9th day my productivity decreased. When I reviewed my self-tracking data, I found that day 9 was when I also experienced worsening moods and increased sleepiness. At this time I was introducing gluten into my diet along with sugar and experimenting with meal frequency.

What I learned from 14 days of self tracking: 

I must be more controlled in experimenting. Period. I am an impatient person by nature but self-experimenting cannot be fast-tracked. I don’t consider any of this a failure as I learned better experimentation methods. I also think I may learn to be more patient in a general sense.

Another thing I learned is that I require better visualization of my self-tracking methods. I started better graphs but I’m searching for something prettier and more interactive. At the moment, I’m taking an online class through MIT called Statistics and Visualization for Data Analysis and Inference in order to get some ideas.

I’m beginning a new experiment in two days where I will go back to IF’ing, go back to a strict Paleo diet, but I will add in higher fat ratios through butter consumption. Yes, straight butter. I want to test the theory put forth by Seth Roberts that butter will increase my mental focus. I also found that people who practice Paleo nutrition experience increased energy.

Stay tuned….

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What I Want To Do – What, How, and Why

I’m always thinking of cool things I want to learn how to do: play the guitar, spend a month in France, get my PhD. I’ve done some damn cool things in my life and I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m proud of where I’ve been but I’m also damn proud of how I got to those places. I’m not talking necessarily physical places but experiences and life-changers.

So, in an effort to practice what I preach, I’m going to declare what I want to accomplish over the next few months. I’ve found that declaring to the world (or the few people who stumble upon this site) what I plan to do keeps me accountable and on track. Now, that’s not to say that I may declare to learn how to play the tuba, realize that I hate the tuba, and abandon it is a failure. I think that attempting to tackle something and realizing that it is not something you like is a bigger success than declaring to do something, realize you hate, but doing it because you said you would.

One of my goals with this site to provide a personal insight into my life and how I live it. As a single mother and a woman, I am among a group of people who society believes to be disadvantaged. I’ve proven many stereotypes wrong and surprised even myself at times. I’m not here to state how great I am, rather, to acknowledge that no matter your situation, if you really want something, it can be done – no matter how big or small.

I’ve spent hours over the course of years researching people who have done remarkable things such as getting a PhD at a foreign university as well as ordinary tasks, such as learning to play the guitar. What I found is that there are a lot of people on the internet telling their story or selling us products telling us that they’ve done something and they’ll show us how. But what is lacking in many of these stories are the basic steps. They’ve failed to document the minutiae of why they did something, how they did it, and why they continued on a path.

The little things leading up to a big accomplishment are so important. We need these documented to help other people get inspired, break down big goals into smaller ones, and find success in the end result but even more so, the fun of all the little things they did and experienced to get to that end.

I plan to map out 5 big things I want to do by the end of this year in an attempt to make the seemingly unreachable a reality for people who dream big but are dejected and never try. A person’s situation in life should never be a barrier to big dreams. And big dreams are nothing without a concerted effort to make them reality.

Now with more chunk

Chunking is the process of breaking things: learning, projects, memorization into smaller chunks in order to complete large tasks with greater rates of efficiency and success.

Most of the time we see items on a to-do list that state: Clean the House, Pay the Bills, Yardwork. We could break this down to: Clean the kitchen, do the laundry, clean the bathroom and pay the electric bill, pay the phone bill and rake the leaves, trim the hedges.

Even the latter list can be broken down into smaller chunks (here is an example of my house cleaning list). I realized that making a list of huge items was just overwhelming. I wondered where to start the project then worried over how long it would take, then began these projects in an inefficient fashion. I would have the same argument with my kids over the age-old “Clean your damn room”. Sure, they had to clean it. But where to begin? Where to end? What steps do I need to do to complete the chore? What is expected of me when mom barks this order?

When I look at my current house-cleaning list, I see little projects that make me think, “Oh sure, no problem, I can knock that out”. I also have the smaller tasks broken into logical sequence. For instance, you wouldn’t clean the dishes and take out the trash before cleaning out the refrigerator because inevitably, you’ll refill the sink with dishes and the trash with rotted food.

I found that also putting an “x” next to each task upon completion give my kids and me, a visual of success. If we get 4 out of 5 things completed on one project we feel compelled to complete that last task because we have a greater sense of accomplishment – one that we actually see with our eyes.

I’m formulating a chunking system for grocery shopping which I will post here soon. I hate the grocery store and found that a process is needed for getting my ass the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Experimenting on Your Kids

Yes, I experiment on my kids. I have two girls and raise them by myself so it may be easier for me to do this than those who share their children with another parent.

A little background: When I had my kids I saw it as an opportunity to raise them in a way that would provide them with opportunities for optimal performance. For me, growing up was not easy and there were many things I wish I had that I wanted to give to my kids. Now, I’m not talking about the toys and fancy parties but food, exercise, and access to state of the art learning opportunities. When they were still very young, I was a student at Berkeley so they would attend classes with me and I’d take them to the museums and other fun areas around campus. I was pretty strapped for cash so this helped me entertain the kids at no cost while giving them phenomenal learning opportunities.

When my first daughter was about 2 she developed a raging case of eczema on her legs. It was so bad it would bleed. The doctor said that she would have to take a topical steroid but be warned that her skin would thin. I thought that was awful and asked the doctor if it could be environmental or nutritional in nature. She responded with a self-assured No.

As any good parent, I Google’d it. I’m not one of those parents who believes Google answers trump doctors but I do find merit in really good research that perhaps many people miss. I found a study that suggested eczema could be a response to a lactose intolerance. Of course many of us young parents are familiar with elimination diets to find culprits in our children’s diets. Lo and behold after 3 days dairy free, my kid had pretty legs. Mind you, I never touched her skin with the steroid cream.  So I marched back into the doctor and declared my findings as a triumphant success. Ha – in your face Dr. M.D. She adamantly opposed my findings.

Here we are 10 years later and my daughter has never tolerated dairy well. It went from eczema to a nasty tummy ache over the years. She loves ice cream and is willing to suffer the pain for a sundae now and again. Recently, we took ourselves off gluten. After a few weeks gluten-free, my kid ate some ice cream and reported back to me that she experienced no stomach discomfort. She has a newfound love for self-experimentation.

Here’s the point: While some may think I’m awful for declaring my kids as “experiments” I think what I’ve done is given my children a life tool that will allow them to experiment with their lives to find their optimal performance levels be that through exercise, study, diet, or play. We are all experimenting in this world and if we aren’t then perhaps we’re missing some amazing experiences.

Why Small Success Are Huge

Sometimes your dreams are elusive and accomplishing them feels impossible. The big “pivot” moments are more than a cause for pause – they are kick-you-in-the-gut moments when you totally lose your breath. These are the times you stop and wonder if you should continue with this idea, pivot, or give up altogether.

This is why you need even the smallest moments of success. You need to meet that goal of busting out just 10 push ups when last week you couldn’t even do 1. You need that moment of success when you realize you have gone 4 whole days without eating processed sugar.

The simple goals can be your salvation when pursuing the extraordinary. This is when you realize that you are, indeed, a success and can take a deep breath and trudge ahead.

Breaking It Down

I started a 100 push up challenge that spans 6 weeks. The idea is that by the end of 6 weeks, no matter if you can do 0 or 5 push ups, you will be able to accomplish 100 push ups. When I began the challenge 1 week ago, I could only accomplish 4 push ups. I had tried to work my way up through incline push ups but still, I could never break 4. I got comfortable doing the inclines and could bust out 50. While I was a bit spent at the end, I still could not complete “real” push ups. I concluded that I needed a better way to train myself.

The beauty of this current challenge is that it breaks the large goal into incremental goals. I figured that before I took the challenge, all I had to do was try to add more push ups everyday. That proved wrong. What this current method advocates is to do a few push ups, take a 90 second break, then attempt more. I do this 3 times. I take one day off between each attempt. Within 3 days, I’m up to 12 push ups.

What I learned is that I don’t have to necessarily complete all my push ups at once. I need to complete a few, step back, breathe, then resume. This physical challenge taught me a huge lesson that I plan to apply to other facets of my life. As in most endeavors I try, I find that I force myself to accomplish a task or project in one big chunk.  Of course this leads to burn out then to abandoning whatever it is I’m doing; ultimately resulting in perceived failure.

The lesson is to take a goal/task/project and break it up into manageable AND enjoyable increments. No one can master anything in one sitting and still find it enjoyable in the end. Goals take patience, practice and perseverance. I plan to adopt the push up strategy and test this theory over a spectrum of mental and physical experiments.

Food and Mental Clarity

For about 7 months I’ve eaten a paleo diet. I eat most of my calories from healthy fat, meat and veggies. There is little fruit and very few carbs. There is no gluten, no processed foods, and no sugar. I basically eat nothing that comes in a package except when I’m in a rush and need to get meat from the grocery store. I won’t go into the specifics because this post isn’t about my specific nutritional practices but what my paleo food has done for my mental and physical performance.

I’ve always struggled with mood swings and at times severe depression. I am not a fan of pharmaceuticals to help me through the low points in my life (though they have merit for some people in some situations). I always thought a life of healthy exercise and nutrition was key to top performance. However, I was like everyone else who ate a low-fat, grain-rich diet. That is, until I began reading about the incapacity of humans to digest the gluten protein.

Once I adopted this nutritional lifestyle (nutrition should not be short-term but a way of life), I also stumbled upon a community of people who eat this way. What struck me in my early days of participating in this online community was the way they experiment with their diets. They come together for answers to questions I don’t believe the larger public ask such as, “If I up my magnesium intake, how will this affect my mood?” or “What foods are causing my psoriasis?” People on the forum are full-on self-experimenters. The striking difference between this community and say, Weight Watchers folks, is that they are not in this for the weight loss but for how they can improve their lives through proper life-long nutritional experimentation.

Self-realization through tracking is key to uncovering the messages our bodies and our environments tell us. For many people, the afternoon, post-lunch slump is just something they accept as truth when in fact, it can be eliminated by experimenting with our diets, sleep, exercise, and minerals.

For 20 years I dealt with hypoglycemia through the conventional wisdom of eating many small meals, or grazing. After months of experimenting with my nutrition, I eat 2 times per day within a 6 hour window. All those years, I was a slave to my food feared the shakiness and black outs associated with hypoglycemia. Within a few months, I have no occurrence of the illness.

If we stop listening to outside interests and understand what makes our individual bodies and mind work well, we can save our country a lot of money on health-related issues. I believe that self-experimenting could do the world at large a great deal of good.